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  Number 439 | Febrero 2018
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Nicaragua briefs


Troops of the Army’s Sixth Regional Military Command killed six people on November 12 in an operation in the community of San Pablo, municipality of La Cruz del Río Grande, South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. The Army reported that they belonged to a “band of criminals.” Days later it was learned from Elea Valle that the dead included her husband, who had taken up arms against the government for political reasons, as well as their 12-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter who had gone to visit him. Valle denounced the Army and demanded the return of her children’s bodies so she could give them a decent burial. She also reported that the community told her that her daughter had been raped and strangled and her son furiously stabbed to death. The events occupied the attention of both public figures and independent media for two months, during which the government maintained a total silence. Finally, on January 15, motivated by international concern about the way the children had been eliminated, it presented a “white paper” to the diplomatic corps and cooperation agencies on the “influence of criminal elements” between 2007 and 2017.


In early January the government named María José Corea, who had served as co-director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology during 2017, as head of the Environment and Natural Resource Ministry (MARENA) following the resignation the previous month of Juana Argeñal, highly criticized for her administration the past 10 years. Environmental expert Jaime Incer Barquero, the government’s adviser on the environment, even though his recommendations are never taken up, has repeatedly criticized the scarce resources MARENA receives, which he sees as “a reflection of the government’s disinterest in environmental issues.” At the end of November a decree Ortega had issued two months earlier ordering the speeding up of the environmental impact studies and permits required for investors was finally published in the official daily La Gaceta, effectively putting it into effect. The business elite defended the decree while the country’s environmental community unanimously criticized it. Now that Nicaragua has finally opted to ratify the 2017 Paris Accords, which critics believe was only done to improve Ortega’s international image, environmentalists are hoping for a policy and laws that prepare the country to adapt to climate change and mitigate its already evident effects. Yet in January, Ortega instead lifted for a year the prohibition on cutting down pine trees anywhere in the country. Incer Barquero also criticized that decision.


In early January, the International Court of Human Rights ruled that the countries of America must put the rights of families made up of homosexual couples on the same level as those of heterosexual couples. Although the Court was responding to a 2016 consultation filed by the government of Costa Rica, its answer establishes that all countries of the continent must include such couples’ rights in their national legislation. The judges required governments to “guarantee access to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination.” Given the resistance to complying with these rights on religious grounds, as happened recently in a lawsuit in the United States as well as in Latin American countries with traditionalist religious opposition to the issue, the Court said that “in democratic societies, mutually peaceful coexistence should exist between the secular and the religious,” adding that the full autonomy of people to choose the person with whom they want to sustain a permanent marital link derives from the principle of human dignity, and that as long as the will to create such a permanent bond and form a family exists, this represents a link that merits equal rights and protection regardless of the sexual orientation of its contracting parties. No government institution in Nicaragua has made any reference to the Court’s ruling, including the Office for the Defense of Sexual Diversity, a recently-formed but so far inconsequential institution.


On November 16, the prolific writer Sergio Ramírez became the first Nicaraguan to win the Cervantes Prize, the most important for Spanish-language literature. The award caused jubilation in Nicaragua and was covered widely by the media in Spain, with that country’s newspaper El País publishing a large full-color photo of Ramirez on its front page, together with his first reactions: “It is an honor to reach the pedestal where so many literary heroes I have admired all my life are. It is a great honor that my country is receiving through me. I dedicate my prize to my country and to Central America.” While Ramírez received congratulatory messages from other writers and Presidents of Latin American countries, the news was met with presidential silence in Nicaragua. Ramírez served as Ortega’s Vice President from 1985 to 1990 and as head of the FSLN’s legislative bench from then until 1995 when he and numerous other intellectuals and professionals split with the party. This January Ramírez presented his latest novel, a detective story titled Ya nadie llora por mí (No one cries for me anymore), at the Central American University in Managua.


The decision by the government of China to include Panama in its multi-billion-dollar “Silk Road” initiative pretty much suggests that Chinese businessman Wang Jing’s project to build an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua, formally inaugurated three years ago but with no advances since then, is a dream gone south. Nonetheless, the Nicaraguan government has neither announced the project’s demise nor repealed the ominous Law 840, which granted Wang not only the canal concession, but also an undefined and apparently unlimited amount of the nation’s territory and resources. The thousands of peasants along the defined canal route, who have opposed the canal project and its law with nearly 100 local and national marches, summarize what’s going on in this succinct sentence: “There’s no canal, just expropriation of our lands.”
This January, Mónica López Baltodano, legal adviser to their movement, called the Council in Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty, denounced a crisis that Francisca Ramírez, the Council’s leader, has put down to maneuvers by former Liberal President Arnoldo Alemán and current Sandinista President Daniel Ortega. The two have maintained a nefarious self-serving alliance since 1998. On January 27, the Council’s 17 territorial leaders met behind closed doors in Nueva Guinea to try to undo the damage. Their analysis of the problems resulted in a document of commitment in which they reaffirmed that they will continue working together for the movement’s common objectives.


Former Uruguayan President José Mujica, who was supposed to have been in Nicaragua on November 25 to receive an honorary doctorate in education from the National University of Managua, didn’t come after the government said it was “postponing” the homage. When the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) learned of his visit, it had sent him a letter expressing concern that the government would use “his presence and prestige to cover itself with a veil of integrity.” Nicaraguan women attending the Feminist Encounter in Montevideo in mid-November had also alerted him to this probability. According to MRS leader Víctor Hugo Tinoco, Mujica is a man “who will not allow himself to be silenced or to be impeded from meeting with whomever he wishes.” That apparently concerned the Ortega government, which preferred to cancel his visit without further explanation.


Between them, Citizens for Liberty, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance won seven mayoral seats previously governed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In January, the new mayors complained that the institutions they took over in January had been bankrupted by debts, with municipal possessions precipitously transferred to the central government, while vehicles, furnishings and equipment from the municipal installations had been looted by outgoing FSLN authorities. In addition, as a way of asphyxiating the new authorities and punishing the population that didn’t vote for the FSLN, the central government reportedly cut by nearly 50% the financial transfers that are supposed to be assigned to them by law.


Pope Francis created two new dioceses in Nicaragua on December 1: Siuna and Bluefields. Until now, the extensive Caribbean territory that they cover belonged not to dioceses but to a single vicariate under Bishop Pablo Schmitz, based in Bluefields. Schmitz will now be the bishop of Bluefields and David Zywiec, his auxiliary bishop, will be the bishop of Siuna. Both men are US Capuchin Franciscans. In late January, just before leaving Nicaragua, where he served as the Vatican nuncio for four years until appointed to a new post as the nuncio of seven Caribbean island nations and Guyana, Fortunatus Nwachukwu recalled that he had urged the pope to decide on this administrative structuring of the Catholic Church.


A team of four scientists from Germany’s Konstanz University recently spent three weeks in Nicaragua to investigate in situ the freshwater bream living in ten of the country’s crater lakes. The value of these fish is that, like the giant Pinzón tortoises in the Galápagos Islands, they both prove and explain the law of evolution, as the bream have evolved independently as different species with their own mutations in each crater lake over the past 20,000 years, a very short period of time in evolutionary terms. Leading the team was German evolutionary biologist Axel Meyer, a graduate of that university and expert in these fish. Meyer has worked in Nicaragua since the 1980s.

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